Monday, June 6, 2011

Bad Experiences Are Good Experiences

A few years ago, I came up with a way of looking at life that has helped me get through many miserable events. I've never seen it described anywhere, and if you know of any writers who have expressed a similar perspective, please tell me.

Say you're driving through the Mojave desert. What would you rather have happen to you: (1) You suffer a tire blowout, which leads to a 45-minute ordeal of changing the tire in 110-degree conditions, during which an overweight cop stops to hang out and watch for awhile, offering no physical help whatsoever. Or, (2) you don't suffer the blowout, and you spend the same 45 minutes in air-conditioned luxury listening to your favorite CD.

Most people would pick (2). If you were experiencing (1) right now — as my 85-year-old uncle did last year — you'd almost certainly elect to switch over to (2) if you could. I am here to tell you, though, that (1) is the preferable experience to have. Here's why.

There's a common expression that goes, "Someday, we'll all have a good laugh about this." Meaning, this may not seem like much fun now, but in the long run it won't matter; we'll remember it as being funny. I've taken this sentiment a bit further. Consider this: Five years after your trip through the Mojave Desert, what will you recall about it? If you experienced (2), probably nothing. But if you experienced (1), you'll have a rich memory of a miserable 45 minutes. You'll have a story with which to regale your friends, complete with the colorful character of the fat, gawking cop. I dare say that on your deathbed, scenario (1) will have provided you with a slightly richer, more memorable life than scenario (2). Did the fact that you were miserable at the time have any negative bearing on your life, long-term? Of course not. A few minutes of misery enriched you for a lifetime. In the big picture of things, it was the far better experience to have.

This manner of thinking applies best to annoying but ultimately benign events, as in the Mojave example; if you developed heat stroke changing the tire and sustained brain damage, that wouldn't be good at all. Similarly, some experiences, such as suffering a family tragedy, are unquestionably negative. However, even in the worst of times, you can comfort yourself somewhat by realizing that this experience can and will enrich you, make you stronger, make you more aware, better rounded as a person. The point is to try to zoom out and imagine the big picture, and think of how the present may impact your life in some way for the better. It isn't easy, but it's something to consider when your only other option seems to be wallowing in your misery.

To me, the worst way you can spend a day is to watch mindless TV on your couch. If you spent your whole life like that, sure, you might never endure a moment of discomfort — but in the end, what would you have to look back on? Nothing!

Think about what I've said the next time you can't believe "this" is happening to you. Just try to be glad that something is happening in your life — anything at all.


  1. You have independently come up with the great philosophy of stoicism, which is the effective part of buddhism, christianity, and 12-step programs, after bullshit removal.

    Everything can be divided into two categories: things that you can control, and things that you cannot control. Evaluate everything, then place it into one of those two categories. (That part sounds hard, yet is surprisingly easy to do.) Obviously, don't waste time or energy on things that you can't control. Concentrate instead on things that you can control. Then, control them.

    It works, thank reason.


  2. Exactly Edward. You have just demonstrated how the problem of evil isn't really a problem at all. Moments like these should help you come closer to understanding God's plan for humanity.

  3. Anonymous -- Does that mean it was God's plan for the Nazis to kill millions of people so as to enrich the lives and memories of the survivors? Or the memories of those souls in heaven that were killed? Either way, it doesn't work for me. I was talking about how people can find comfort in unfortunate or uncomfortable circumstances. If you have been harmed intentionally by another person, it makes more sense to find comfort using my method than to tell yourself, "It was a part of God's plan." As long as people in the world harm each other on purpose, there is a problem assuming a first cause that is purely good.

  4. My mom and dad have this view of life and taught it to me. I taught it to my kids in a more direct manner. Life will screw you from time to time don't mind it later in your life it won't seem so bad. Death is slightly different, it doesn't provide humorous memories of the event. You get used to being without that person but missing them never goes away.

  5. I love your thinking Eddie, keep giving us these little gems. I agree with Anonymous RK (just plain Anonymous is a worry ;-)!) Has been my perspective on life for many years now, and it works perfectly, even in the face of death of a loved one. Don't tell me it's 'God's will' - shit happens, you just have to deal with it. And you do .... given time. JT